Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

1974-97 • Washington, D.C.

In 1974 Halprin was selected by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission to design a 7.5-acre site along the edge of the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the National Mall. He created four outdoor rooms, organized in a sequence to tell the story of the U.S. during the four terms of Roosevelt’s presidency. The rooms (built of red granite) and water features escalate in complexity as the narrative progresses. Twenty-one inscriptions of Roosevelt’s words are carved into the granite walls.

Included throughout are ten bronze sculptures depicting images from the Great Depression and World War II. Sculptors included Leonard Baskin, Neil Estern, Robert Graham, Thomas Hardy, and George Segal. Decades in the making, the memorial was dedicated by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1997.

President Bill Clinton dedicating the memorial in 1997

The maintenance team at FDR Memorial benefits from a Maintenance Plan that was authored by Halprin. The plan is consulted with regards to daily maintenance practices all the way up to long-term improvement decisions. Furthermore, as this memorial was built with the education of future generations in mind, it is already being treated as a cultural resource even in the face of its relatively recent construction. The landscape underwent a full rehabilitation in 2015, in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

However, this is not to say that the site does not face significant maintenance challenges. Issues that have emerged in recent years include: invasive vegetation, soil and plant compaction due to heavy visitation, the fountain pumps overheating in the summer and/or freezing in the winter, and degradation of the inscriptions and sculptures (also due to visitor interaction). For example, the National Park Service (NPS) currently repaints the carved inscriptions (to Halprin’s original specifications) every four years. The cost is significant. Therefore, the maintenance and cultural resource staff are wrestling with how to maintain important features while fostering visitor engagement. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Halprin intended for visitors to tread the lawns and touch the inscriptions and sculptures. He recognized, even promoted, visitor interaction within the Maintenance Plan. The challenge therefore lies in reconciling the original design intent with long-term maintenance solutions.  

Conceptual sketch of the memorial

It is regular practice for Rangers and other Tour Guides to mention Halprin’s involvement when taking groups through the memorial. They also mention the multiple sculptors who contributed their art to the landscape. But his contribution could be improved by listing him on the official NPS website.



Design Team

Dean Abbot (landscape architect)
Steve Koch (landscape architect)
Sue Yung Li Ikeda (design consultant)
CHNMB Associates (associated landscape architects)
John G. Parsons (landscape architect)
Befu Morris Scardina (associated landscape architects)
Dick Chaix (fountain consultant)
Robert Marquis (architect)


Condition Scale Condition: A

Info Scale Visibility: B
Moderate discussion of Halprin’s work  


Info ScaleNational Register of Historic Places

Learn more about the Landslide program...

Learn More

  • 1850 West Basin Dr SW
    Washington, DC 20242

Official website

See What's Out There Profile




Featured Photographer

Roger Foley
Foley has been photographing landscape architecture and garden design for more than 40 years. His work has been featured in hundreds of books, magazines, and websites. He is the sole photographer of eight garden books, two of which won ‘Award of the Year’ from the Garden Writers Association. His most recent book, On Walnut Hill: The Evolution of a Garden, was published in October, 2015.